Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Passport to Pinot; A tale of Reunion & Discovery

Traffic through Portland aside, going back to the Willamette Valley is always a joyous occasion for me. I savor the opportunity to reconnect with old friends like Sheila & Nick Nicholas of Anam Cara Cellars and I always eagerly look forward to making new friends, finding new wine gems and enjoying the people & the Pinot of the gorgeous Willamette Valley.

Gwynne and I packed up our car early Saturday morning and prepared to crash the campus of Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, which has played host to the International Pinot Noir Celebration every summer for the last 24 years. We scored a room in one of Linfield's very satisfactory dormitories, which, I might add, had fantastically convenient proximity to the Grand Tasting, Passport to Pinot.

In the run-up to Sunday's Passport to Pinot event, there were lots of wines, vineyard visits and excellent food and you'll get to read about all of that. I want to focus on Passport to Pinot because that was the event that prompted our trip to McMinnville. Gwynne and I are both madly in love with Oregon's incomparable Pinot Noir and so the opportunity to sample much of the wine that was poured over the four days of the IPNC events was a siren call we couldn’t refuse.

The IPNC is four intense days of seminars, blending workshops and pairings stretching from Thursday to Sunday morning. The Passport event, held Sunday afternoon, reprises the Al Fresco tastings from Friday and Saturday, and so typically has different attendees. It’s a great offering of a more affordable tasting opportunity for the newcomer or the slightly less dedicated fan of Pinot. Passport also allows the wineries highlighted during the Al Fresco tastings to showcase their wines to a wider audience.

The Passport to Pinot was beautifully situated in the Oak Grove at Linfield College. Each attendee was given a Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass and invited to have at it, giving us an opportunity to taste Pinot from approximately 60 wineries pouring at the event in two shifts. While Oregon was the most well-represented region, there were wines from all over the world. It is, after all, the International Pinot Noir Celebration. Tending toward regionalism as I do, I was very pleasantly surprised by some amazing Pinots coming from Argentina, Austria, and Canada.

We ran into Sheila and Nick early on in the afternoon, and Sheila introduced me to Cole Danehower. Cole is the author of Essential Wines & Wineries of the Pacific Northwest and Northwest Palate Magazine. Cole & I got into a disagreement about Canadian wines when he told me there was some really good wine coming out of Canada. I confess that later in the day, I came to eat, or rather drink my words after I tried the Pinot Noir from Tantalus. A few hours later I sauntered up to Cole and said, "Cole, I do believe some humble pie is in order." Humble pie goes great with Pinot, Canadian Pinot especially.

I was really taken by some of the Pinot Noir coming out of California is well. (That's a sentence I never really thought I'd write. Geez.) The wines of Carneros and Santa Rita Hills were especially nice. Santa Rita Hills is a little cooler and so I think that helps them out quite a bit.

Another surprise, and the winery with the longest line was Bodega Chacra, an Argentinian Pinot producer. The Pinot from Bodega Chacra was an ‘09 and I found it very understated. The guy pouring the wine however was very handsome, and so maybe that's why there was such a long line?

I still defer to Oregon for my Pinot Noir, and today was no exception. The Eyrie Vineyards ‘07 Estate, aka The Godfather, was really showing beautifully and it's not even released. I always find the wines of Anam Cara to be very much to my liking in any crowd. It was a pleasure to try the Roco Pinot, and I had a great time talking with Rollin Soles about our screw cap chat on Grape Encounters Radio.

It was nice running into other wine bloggers like Tamara from Sip With Me, and Allie from My Wine Words. The Passport to Pinot was a great event that also included an excellent spread of Oregon, specifically Portland, eateries. Restaurants, bakeries and caterers making a wide variety of food options that went well with this wide variety of Pinot Noir. There were some great bites from Bunk Sandwiches, Ken's Artisan Bakery (with canelé that won Gwynne's heart quickly) and Two Tarts Bakery (which also won Gwynne's heart with amazing macaroons, notice a theme).

Passport to Pinot is a great way to cram some of the amazingly rich experiences that make up the IPNC week into one day, with a much more approachable price tag. The event is as tasteful, or dare I say classy, as any tasting I've been to. Next year is the 25th year of IPNC, maybe it'll be my second. ( Tickets are already available.)


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